For years I have completely taken for granted that little kids — like, all little kids besides those with nut allergies — grow up on peanut butter. PB&J? On the side with a sliced banana or apple? Smuckers’ Uncrustables? Delectable spoonfuls straight from the jar? Ringing any bells?
Probably 99 percent chance a full chorus of bells are being rung. For most of you.
But, as I was informed simply by a French friend of mine earlier this week, “We just…don’t really eat it.” I tried to take this information in stride, nodding in understanding, while befuddlement was stirring silently in my mind. What do you mean, don’t eat peanut butter?
I was somewhat aware of this cultural norm before — people warned me that the American mainstay was “difficult” to find in France. How hard could it be, really, though?
My final class on Monday ended early. With quite a bit of daylight left and in the mood to stretch my legs after four hours in class, I decided to embark on a quest for peanut butter. Had kept my eye out for a jar while grocery shopping in our neighborhood and thus far had come up empty. But at this point, I had been in Paris for 11 days. That’s way, way too long not to have my creamy (or crunchy), spreadable essence de la vie.
I am a nearly three-year vegetarian, and peanut butter became my first love when it came to a daily protein kick. Peanut butter was the ideal hunger quencher when I had no lunch break at school and my go-to before running races. It’s just plain good at all hours of the day. And not that French baguettes don’t taste magnifiques tous seules, but my bread was starting to look a little sad without its usual nutty companion.
Where to start? From Sciences Po, I walked across the Seine and went north. Within five minutes, I found a Carrefour, the largest grocery store chain in France. Had definitely heard rumors about this place having peanut butter. This would be so easy. Psh. Child’s play.
I went into the store. I looked around until I found the jelly and jam. Literally more jelly and jam than I’d seen in one place, ever. Something like this:
Here was my first indication that “J” doesn’t necessarily go with “PB” in France. Guess I needed to get creative.
I went around the next corner and found shelves upon shelves of Nutella, but no peanut butter. I went to the bread aisle. Nothing. The snack area had a whole section of a wall devoted to nuts — but no peanut butter.
Undeterred, I continued my promenade. Found a Monoprix within three minutes — walked around, asked the attendant, no peanut butter. Fine, whatever.
Onto the next one, where I bought this stuff completely on a whim because it was brown-colored and creamy-looking. I couldn’t recall the correct translation for peanut butter off the top of my head and didn’t have a dictionary handy.
The words escaping me were “beurre de cacahuètes,” and this was actually cookie butter. (But not going to lie, it has ended up being a good mistake.)
I had to keep going. I was hooked and determined. Franprix? Please? You know you want my business! And yet again, rejection.
After nearly three hours and eight stores across four different arrondissements, I was done. My feet hurt and my drive had vanished, and I was still a good 20-minute walk from home. Defeated, I walked up the road to a crosswalk — and out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a sign advertising some “supermarché” a couple of blocks away. Don’t even remember what it was called. In retrospect, it might have been smart to remember the name.
I was an old pro at the job now. Walk in, find nothing, ask the store attendant just to be sure, say “merci, au revoir” and leave.
No peanut butter! Quelle surprise!
As I was looking for the exit, I saw a section with the words “produits du monde” stripped across the top. Curious, I drew closer. Among the DIY taco kits and microwaveable Indian rice, in the very bottom left corner, was my prize. A single jar of it. Looked something like this:
That little 7-serving off-brand jar cost more than 5 euros. And it tasted pretty flat, I’ll be honest (and was certainly not “crammed with peanuts,” thank you false advertising). But after days of deprivation I was more like: